Murder at the Boxing Club
A Ginger Gold Mystery book 20
Ginger Reed, also known by some as Lady Gold, held up two clip-on earrings to her ears, one a hoop of small turquoise beads and the other a delicate crystal-encrusted teardrop. The beauty of the current short and sassy hairstyles was that they allowed for ear decorations to be easily seen, and Ginger’s red bob was evidence of that. She chose the teardrops, then completed her make-up: smoky shadow reaching her thinly plucked, arched eyebrows; a circle of red parked on each cheekbone; and her lips shining with luxurious pink.
Catching her husband’s warm hazel eyes through the mirror’s reflection, she asked, “What does one wear to a boxing match?” She answered her own question, saying, “Subdued is preferred, I gather.”
“Sports betting attracts commoners, high society, and highbrow alike,” Basil said. “You’ll stand out more no matter what you choose, I’m afraid.”
Ginger selected a burgundy suit with a pleated skirt that fell to mid-calf, a button-down jacket with a matching belt that rested low on the hips, and a matching cloche hat. If it weren’t for Marvin Elliot being in the ring, she wouldn’t be going. She despised these boorish events and thought them rather reminiscent of the barbarism of the Roman circus.
“You’re sure Marvin will be all right?” Ginger asked as she donned a blouse.
“He’s been fighting since he joined the navy,” Basil said. “He’s young, energetic, and has strong survival instincts.”
Ginger groaned. “He needn’t require survival instincts if he’d behaved.”
Marvin was the cousin of Scout, Ginger and Basil’s adopted son, and had recently been dishonourably discharged from the navy.
Basil glanced over, pausing at his wardrobe where he was selecting his attire. “You don’t have to come, love, if you find it so very disagreeable.”
Ginger glanced about the room, once her childhood chambers, which had been redecorated to suit her maturity and marital status. The heavy, ornately carved wood furnishings included a sitting area with a small table and two gold-and-white striped chairs in front of the windows. The thought of spending the evening lounging in the comfort of her four-poster bed, playing with her nine-month-old daughter Rosa, and then later reading Mrs. Christie’s The Big Four did seem appealing.
However, other wives and sweethearts attended these events, and if Basil continued attending, she wanted to know what the fuss was about. Seeing Marvin again would be a bonus, as she hadn’t seen the young man for a few months after his employment with the circus. Ginger had been relieved when he’d chosen to stay behind after the circus moved on, but she did wish he’d found a less dangerous way to earn a living.
“You’re sure Marvin is up to the task?” Ginger asked. She slipped on the suit jacket, then fastened the buttons and the belt. “It seems like this has all happened so fast.”
“The lad has had a most extraordinary rise in the rankings,” Basil conceded. “A testament to his talent.”
“But isn’t he fighting that Sid Lester fellow? A professional?”
Basil raised a brow. His brown hair, shaved short on the sides, shone with grey, and the top was oiled and neatly combed over to one side. A decade Ginger’s senior and now in his forties, Basil remained attractive even with deepening wrinkles and greying temples.
“You’ve heard about Sid Lester?” he said.
Ginger nodded. “I’ve been following the fights in the newspapers. He looks like a big man and is much older than Marvin.”
“The photographs are misleading,” Basil said. “They’re both middleweight. Lester’s face has taken more of a beating.” He put on a short summer jacket instead of his usual trench coat, then selected a flat cap, a marked change from his usual trilby. He must’ve noticed Ginger’s questioning look as he explained, “I don’t want to look like a copper. It makes folks uneasy.”
The flat cap made Ginger uneasy, as it wasn’t a look she was used to seeing on Basil. “Are we ready?” she asked.
Basil held out his hand. “Let’s go.”
Ginger loved how they still felt like newlyweds, married only three years after all. They stopped at the nursery to give Rosa a kiss and a hug. Their daughter had pulled herself to a standing position in her crib, holding on to the metal rails with fat little fingers. She bounced excitedly when she spotted her parents, and Ginger’s heart filled as Basil swooped his little daughter into his arms—surprising Abby Green, the nanny—and patted Rosa’s dark hair. Except for her green eyes, which she’d got from Ginger, she looked like her daddy.
After taking her turn to hold Rosa, Ginger handed the child back to the nanny. “Good night, Rosa.”
Leaving the nursery, Ginger and Basil headed down the long corridor to the broad, curving staircase that opened to the entranceway. A large chandelier hung from the high ceiling and sparkled over the polished marble floors. They were halfway down when thirteen-year-old Scout raced around the corner and up the stairs. Boss, Ginger’s little Boston terrier, was on his heels.
“Whoa!” Basil said. “Where’s the fire?”
His cheeks flushed and straw-coloured hair a mess, Scout huffed, “Are you going to Marvin’s fight?”
“We are,” Ginger said.
Scout’s round eyes blinked rapidly. “Can I come? Please! I want to see Marvin fight!”
Ginger shot Basil a sideways glance. She’d hoped they would’ve been able to leave before Scout returned from his riding lesson.
“Not this time,” Ginger said. “We’re about to depart, and we’ll be late.”
“I’m ready!” Scout insisted.
“Son,” Basil said, “you smell like a horse. And you’re too young to get in.”
Ginger wasn’t sure if this was true, though she hoped there would be an age limit to entry. Regardless, she was ready to impose one on her son.
Scout’s shoulders, thin yet widening with pubescence, drooped. “I hate being so young!”
“Enjoy your youth whilst you can,” Ginger said. “Now, go upstairs and bathe before the whole house smells like a stable.”
Scout trudged upstairs in reluctant defeat. Even so, he’d become much more amiable since the debacle at the circus. Ginger had to acknowledge that their son, having spent ten years struggling on the streets of London, would never fully conform to the new world of which he was now part. His disastrous experience at Kingswell Academy had proven that he’d never fit in with the children of the elite.
In the back garden, Basil reversed his forest-green 1922 Austin out of the garage, then jumped out to open the passenger door for Ginger. Once they were both seated inside, Basil turned to her and said, “If it gets too distasteful for you, just say the word, and we’ll leave.”
Ginger patted Basil’s arm with appreciation. “I’ll do my best to stomach it.”
“I’ll wager you’ve never been to a venue quite like this before,” Basil said as he and Ginger headed to the second-tier section of the Bethnal Green Boxing Club in the East End. Their hard wooden seats sat on a balcony that surrounded a boxing ring one floor below, surrounded by collapsible seats arranged in rows almost right up to the side of the ring.
“No, I certainly haven’t,” Ginger said, checking their ticket stubs.
“Yes, this is the right spot, my dear. I didn’t think you wanted to be in the lower stall section. I think it might be rather close to the kind of action planned for tonight.” He pointed down at the scene below them. “It’s not exactly the Royal Ballet or the London Symphony Orchestra.”
“Quite.” Ginger scanned the lower-floor seats.
Basil felt concerned that his wife would want to leave after the first round. He hoped that by sitting higher up and away from the ring, there at least would be little danger of spittle or sweat from the boxers hitting them. That, he thought ruefully, would guarantee a quick exit.
“That’s where the judges and the press gallery sit.” Basil pointed to some empty seats beside the ring. A long wooden table with a large golden boxing bell was placed in the middle.
“The ring official just hits the bell with his palm at the beginning and end of every round,” Basil remarked.
“No doubt a lot of training is required for that job,” Ginger said sarcastically.
“Well, at least one would have to keep one’s eye on the clock.”
“I might be doing the same,” Ginger said under her breath.
“I heard that.” Basil smiled and nudged her with his shoulder. “I hate to inform you, but these fights have the potential to go a full ten rounds.”
Basil chuckled. “I’ll bet you your next fancy hat you’ll be surprised at how the time goes.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Ginger said, “but for your information, my hats aren’t fancy. They’re elegant and fashionable. You don’t spot a Reboux original from Paris and call it fancy.”
“Well, no, I wouldn’t, of course,” Basil said with a hint of tease in his voice. “No . . . the boys down at the Yard would call it fancy, but not me.” He adjusted his flat cap. “Inspector Sanders, for example, is a good man but certainly not in tune with the latest fashions like I am.”
That earned him a raised eyebrow and a wry smile from Ginger.
Quiet for a moment, Basil then said, “The Bethnal Green Boxing Club Hall has been in existence since 1884.” Thinking that perhaps a little history would make Ginger more comfortable with her surroundings, he went on. “It seats about two hundred people at its fullest, which I think we might see tonight.”
He waved his arm expansively around the large room. The crowd in the packed hall comprised mostly of men, had a surprising number of women as well. He held up a printed brochure. “This club has produced a lot of champion boxers, including Sid Lester.”
“May I?” Ginger reached for the brochure.
“He’s a formidable pugilist, all right.” Basil nodded at an image of a shirtless, barrel-chested man with his bare fists held up in front of him. Sid Lester’s nose was unnaturally crooked, and his eyes looked like dark, soulless pools as he glared at the camera. “They nicknamed him ‘The Midnight Train’ because he comes up with the goods every night right on time,” Basil said. “Even the press is afraid to interview him. They say he’s like an enraged bull in the ring.” Basil blew air out of his cheeks. “He’s been London’s champion middleweight boxer for almost eight years running now. His hands are larger than what would seem suitable for his size, and his punches seem to go right through his opponents. In fact, his gloves are custom-made to make room for his big fists. They are like steam shovels.”
Ginger’s hand went to her throat. “And this is the fellow Marvin is fighting tonight?” She stabbed the photograph of Marvin with a long fingernail. “He looks . . ..”
Basil placed a reassuring palm on Ginger’s arm. “From what I’ve been told,” he started, “Marvin is exceptionally fast in the ring.”
“He will have to be!” Ginger stared at the two men in the brochure with a deep concern written all over her face.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Basil continued. “He must be very talented to have risen in the ranks this fast to get a shot at Sid Lester. Perhaps in part due to how outspoken Marvin has been with the press. After winning his last few fights, he seems to have taken on the role of showman just as much as that of a boxer, perhaps learning from his circus days. Some of the newspapers have started calling him ‘Marvin the Mouth’. He appears to enjoy goading his opponents.”
Ginger stared at Basil incredulously. “Marvin the Mouth?”
Basil hurried to defend the moniker. “Last week, during an interview with the London Sports Gazette, he called Lester a gorilla, saying he was as ugly as an old barn.”
Sniffing, Ginger said, “That seems unwise.”
“Well, if he defeats Lester, he’ll win the title of London Middleweight Champion, which carries a lot of prestige and a generous purse. Quite a feat for a young man by just ‘throwing leather about’, as they say in the boxing vernacular.”
Ginger adjusted her hat. “You mean pawing at each other and jostling about in the ring.”
“You could put it that way,” Basil said with a chuckle. “But if he wins here, he might even go on to fight Britain’s champion at the Royal Albert Hall or something.”
“I just hope he survives,” Ginger said. “Perhaps a good brain rattling is what he needs to come to his senses.”
“I think the fight is about to start.” Basil pointed at a middle-aged man wearing a dinner jacket who entered the ring carrying a megaphone.
“Ladieees and gentlemen,” the ring announcer shouted, and the crowd grew instantly quiet. “On behalf of the London Boxing Commission and the East End of London Sports League, I welcome you to this fine facility tonight. We have an exciting bout for you all, and I hope you are ready for it. Let’s get right to it, shall we? In the challenger’s corner, weighing ten stone nine, a young man who has already made quite a name for himself in the world of both bare-knuckle and Queensberry Rules, from Cheapside, the Marvellous Maaaarviiiin Elliot!”
The applause was muted. There were even a few boos in the crowd.
“It seems that his antics in the press haven’t helped him,” Ginger said.
The sinewy form of Marvin Elliot entered the ring accompanied by a black man carrying a small wooden stool and a leather kit. Marvin was shirtless but wore white shorts, black leather boots, and red boxing gloves. Jeering at the crowd, he bounced in his corner while banging his gloves together.
“He looks good,” Basil remarked. “Trim, fit, alert.”
“Colourful,” Ginger added. “What is meant by Queensberry Rules?”
“It refers to a set of generally accepted rules. For example, the boxers must wear gloves, there’s one minute between rounds, no wrestling . . . things like that. Regulations that make the sport a little less barbaric.”
“I could add to that code,” Ginger offered.
Marvin’s gaze moved to their area in the auditorium, and Ginger waved, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“You shouldn’t wave at him like you’re his mother or something,” Basil scolded mildly.
“Why on earth not?”
“Well, it might put him off to know you’re here. The same goes for me. It’s best he stays focused.”
“Nonsense,” Ginger said. “I should think it would make him feel like someone in this crowd is rooting for him.”
“But you’re not really. I suspect you’d like to see him lose the match if you had your way. Not injured badly but discouraged enough to stop pursuing this line of work. Am I right?”
Ginger lifted a thin shoulder non-committally. “And what about you?”
Basil opened his mouth to disagree, but as Marvin’s opponent emerged, with hard muscles, a heavy brow, and a crooked nose, Basil decided that perhaps Ginger had a point.
“And in the champion’s corner, ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer shouted with great exuberance as cheers rose from the crowd. “From right here in London’s East End, the ‘Locomotive’, ‘the Midnight Train’, the man with dynamite in his fists and thunder in his arms, weighing eleven and a half stone, the one, the only Siiiiiid Lesterrrrr!”
The crowd erupted with such a roar it caused Ginger to put her hands over her ears.
Basil grimaced. It’d been a mistake to bring his wife. This crowd wasn’t on Marvin’s side. He feared carnage.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...